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Obama administration renewing focus on IT acquisition

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For anyone familiar with last fall’s disastrous rollout of the healthcare.gov website (and that presumably includes most of the adult population of the United States), it will come as no surprise to hear that the Obama administration is again working to get smarter delivery of information technology services.

“We’ve learned a tremendous amount from the challenges the administration’s recently faced and have worked  diligently to address this past year,” Beth Cobert, a senior Office of Management and Budget official, said at a recent Association of Government Accountants gathering. “But we know that information technology is important to how the government works today and will be more important to the government going forward.”

As a result, the administration has “a focused effort under way to look at this,” said Cobert, who became OMB’s deputy director for management in October. That includes “many, many conversations” with government employees, contractors and IT firms that do no government business to gather ideas and to think about potential improvements.

There will be more to come on the subject in the months ahead, Cobert said, “but it’s clearly an area that I’m focused on and my team is focused on.”

 

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Contract executive convicted in snooping case

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One morning in August 2011, the vice president of an information technology contractor for the federal government awoke, checked his BlackBerry and noticed something strange.

Overnight, as court records would later go on to describe, someone had sent an email from the unnamed executive’s work account to a former employee.

An internal investigation soon led to a federal probe by the FBI and the General Service Administration’s Office of Inspector General.

Now, nearly two years after that unusual email, the former employee, Robert Edwin Steele, 38, stands convicted by a jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., of 14 counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer.

In announcing the conviction Friday, federal prosecutors said Steele worked at multiple companies in government contracting, resigning from one known only as “Company A” in December 2010.

But after leaving the company and while working for another contractor, prosecutors said Steele continued sifting through his old employer’s records. All told, he accessed the company’s internal system more than 79,000 times from December 2010 to early September 2011, authorities said.

When sentenced in July, Steele faces up to one year in prison on two misdemeanor convictions and five years on each of 12 felony convictions.

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Update:GSA cancels Oracle IT contract

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The General Services Administration is canceling Oracle Corp.’s Schedule 70 contract for information technology services because the company failed to meet the terms of its contract agreement, the agency confirmed.

The company can finish work on existing task orders, but agencies cannot place new orders or extend existing task orders with Oracle after May 17, GSA announced on its website Wednesday. Blanket purchase agreements with Oracle through Schedule 70 will terminate on May 17. Agencies can still purchase Oracle software from technology resellers that have Schedule 70 contracts.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment.

“Based on the GSA’s review of Oracle America, Inc.’s IT Schedule 70 contract… which offers only professional services, it was determined that it was not in the best interest of the government to continue the contract,” Mary Davie, an assistant commissioner at GSA, said in an emailed statement.

GSA notified agencies about the cancelled contract on the FedBizOpps website.

Oracle earned more than $387 million in total schedule sales in fiscal 2011, according to data from FedSources. The company earned more than $203 million in direct contracts across the government during that time, according to USASpending.gov.

The company had recently resolved past issues with GSA. In October, Oracle Corp. agreed to pay $199.5 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit that alleged the company intentionally gave GSA inaccurate information about discounts it gave to commercial customers and failed to pass those discounts on to the government, according to a Justice Department news release annoucing the settlement.

No reason was given for the schedule contract cancellation on the GSA website. A spokeswoman for Oracle declined to comment.

More details to come …

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Feds and contractors need to talk more, agencies say

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A handful of agencies are taking steps to improve coordination between program managers, contracting officers and contractors in hopes of delivering less wasteful, more effective IT acquisitions.

The Energy Department, for example, is using a series of agency-wide meetings to share ideas on what’s being bought and what contracts are used in certain information technology arenas, such as mobility, open government and geospatial, Pete Tseronis, the department’s chief technology officer, said at the Acquisition Excellence conference Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Companies can attend the events and network with the agency’s program managers and contracting officers, Tseronis said. But he has heard from contractors who are later bounced between the program office and the contracting officer when they try to get information about upcoming contracts or market their technologies to the agency, he said.

“Government has to fix something about dialogue,” he said. “Otherwise, why do these events?”

Acquisition officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement are trying to improve communication between program managers and contracting officers so they can come up with better statements of work on a contract, said Brent Bushey, an ICE IT program manager. Pressures to award contracts quickly have driven acquisition officers to speed through those early discussions, he said.

“You say you want to go fast, but you have no idea what you’re trying to buy or how to articulate that,” Bushey said.

Government and contractor panelists at the conference, which was hosted by the General Services Administration and American Council for Technology’s Industry Advisory Council, agreed that companies can offer helpful insight to agencies about how best to structure program requirements. But contracting officers are afraid that meeting with a contractor about an upcoming procurement will look bad and give competing companies reason to protest their decisions, officials said.

That fear is a focus of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s campaign last year to encourage contracting officers to communicate with industry, called Mythbusters. Better communication should lead to fewer protests, not more, federal procurement officials said.

About a month ago, OFPP added a “vendor collaboration” link to the Federal Business Opportunities website where agencies post contract notices. The new link directs contractors to pre-solicitiation opportunities, such as requests for information and agency industry days.

OFPP is also planning a follow-up to the Mythbusters campaign that will focus more on issues faced by the contractor community, OFPP acting administrator Lesley Field said during the conference.

Readers, how would you describe communication between federal program and contracting offices? What about between the government and industry? Where are the hangups?

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What would you ask the federal CIO?

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Federal Times is meeting with federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel on Wednesday to discuss information technology trends and initiatives.

As a reader, what would you ask the federal CIO? You can reply directly or send responses to njohnson@federaltimes.com.

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DoD launches IT exchange program

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The Defense Department has launched its Information Technology Exchange Program to share IT civilian employees with the private sector.

The personnel assignments will range from three months to a year and focus on sharing best practices and expertise on cloud and mobile computing, infrastructure management and cybersecurity, according to a July 1 announcement.

Private sector participants will work with the chief information officer, Joint Staff, U.S. Cyber Command, the National Security Agency and other departments. Workers must be US citizens, be equivalent to a grade level 11, and lending organizations will pay the salaries of their workers. Secrete clearance is required, but top secret is preferred.

Interested companies should send an email with their name, company, email address and phone number to askitep@osd.mil. Federal Times would like to hear from potential applicants. Please contact Nicole Johnson at 703-750-8145 or njohnson@federaltimes.com

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Former GSA official joins Alaska Native Corp.

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The Koniag Development Corp. has hired former GSA assistant commissioner Ed O’Hare to lead its Technology Business Sector, the company announced Wednesday.

O’Hare was the assistant commissioner for the Federal Acquisition Service’s Information Technology Services at the General Services Administration before leaving the agency in January. The FAS IT Services is the largest fee-for-service IT procurement and services operation in the federal government, with contracts exceeding $22 billion a year.

Immediately after leaving GSA, Dynanet Corp. hired O’Hare to oversee its business development and delivering services to state and federal government customers.

Now as senior vice president of the Technology Business Sector for Koniag Development, a subsidary of an Alaska Native Corporation, O’Hare will lead four Konaig subsidiaries in IT, telecommunications and information security. The companies are Koniag Services Inc., Koniag Technology Solutions, Frontier Systems Integrators and Professional Computing Resources Inc.

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OMB sets IT purchasing guidelines for telework

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Federal executives have until the end of July to develop or revise information technology procurement policies that support their agencies’ telework needs, according to memo released Thursday.

When crafting these policies, agencies must account for security risks and ensure that all devices and infrastructure meet federal security and privacy standards, said Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew in the memo.

The memo directs chief information and acquisition officers to take advantage of governmentwide and agencywide contracts. Agency technology should provide remote access to internal resources and include the use of thin clients, where most of the computing is done on a protected server rather than a hard drive.

By June 7, agencies must determine which employees are authorized to telework, notify all employees of their eligibility and establish a policy for those who are authorized to telework. OMB will issue a more detailed memo by the June deadline.

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Carper calls on OMB to detail impact of e-government cuts

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Following up on concerns about decreased funding for the General Services Administration’s e-government fund, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has asked the federal chief information officer to detail how this will impact transparency efforts.

In an April 21 letter to Vivek Kundra, Carper expressed his concern for the future of public websites like the ITDashboard, USASpending.gov and data.gov that rely on e-government funds to operate. Lawmakers slashed e-government funding from $34 million to $8 million in the 2011 spending bill.

The dashboard, which updates the public on the performance of major information technology projects, coupled with in-depth reviews of at-risk projects, has saved the administration $3 billion, Kundra has said.  

“I remain concerned with how the new lower funding level for the E-Gov Fund might not only impede the progress made thus far to make government more open and transparent, but also harm efforts to cut wasteful and duplicative spending in the federal government,” Carper wrote in the letter.

At an April 12 hearing by the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management and government information, Carper asked Kundra how the Office of Management and Budget is responding to the cuts.

“Given the original request versus where we are right now, we’re still evaluating the implications, but we are going to have to make some tough decisions around which systems are going to have to go offline, versus what can be supported with the $8 million fund,” Kundra replied.

Carper is requesting specific details about what will be affected by the cuts and how OMB intends to use available funding to continue some of the current initiatives.

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Takai lays out DoD IT reform challenges

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Teri Takai says she isn’t naïve about the challenges in executing departmentwide information technology reforms at the Defense Department.  

As DoD’s chief information officer, she’s up against more than 7 million computers and devices connected to 15,000 networks, 772 data centers and IT infrastructure that is scattered across DoD services. There’s also the challenge of garnering support from services’ CIOs, who have their own pots of money for IT projects and programs.

“It isn’t like I can sort of sit in my office and put a directive out and everybody goes “oh that’s a really great idea Teri, I better run back to my office and do that,’” Takai told an audience of mostly government contractors at an INPUT event Thursday.

The push is toward more centralization and standardization of platforms that can ultimately support adoption of cloud computing.

“If we moved to a cloud environment with the technology the way it is today, we will make our world worse, not better, because we will now have our internal data centers to control as well as who knows what is in what cloud,” Takai said. She added that DoD will not be able “to move in any way into a cloud environment if we do not move to a more standardized environment.”

Don’t forget the security piece. Takai has made it clear that the environment must be secure and continue to be secure.

As for data center consolidation, she said DoD is still at stage one. The department has agreed to shutdown 344 data centers by 2015, the biggest undertaking of any federal agency, but has just begun looking at physical data centers and virtualization. DoD will develop the remainder of its plan throughout the year, starting with consolidation within the services first.

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